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The Honest Fishmongers Equity Co-op production of King Lear is an intimate, fresh, and deeply moving encounter with one of the bard’s greatest works. It is performed in the Havana Theatre on Commercial Drive, a space of only several hundred square feet. The audience sits in two rows against three sides of the room and the action unfolds in the centre space and aisles. In such intimate confines it would be absurd to maintain any pretense of a fourth wall and Director Kevin Bennett steers his cast to embrace this. The audience becomes woven into the fabric of the play: actors speak directly to seated patrons, beseech them to hold onto props, and even make physically contact – grasping hands as they implore, squeezing shoulders as the cajole, and relying on support to rise from the ground. The bold, risk taking staging could create considerable awkwardness if thrust upon the audience, but Bennett cleverly compensates for this before the play begins by having the out-of-character cast mingle, chat, and find opportunities to make subtle physical contact with the seated theatre-goers. This establishes a level of trust and comfort, for both audience and actor, that allows everyone to fully engage themselves in the intimate journey. At the 7:30pm mark, a trumpet sounds, the actors snap into a short dance and brilliant ‘turn off your cell phones’ speech that riffs on some of Shakespeare’s most memorable quotes (delivered in crisp, bouncing iambic pentameter), and the play begins. The story of Lear is a familiar one: an aging king decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters, but first they must profess their love for him. Two daughters, Regan and Goneril, are false-hearted, but use deceitful flattery to win their portions of the kingdom. The third daughter, Cordelia, is truthful and good, but her honesty prevents her from engaging in such hyperbolic praise. Cordelia is banished, and Lear is soon turned away by his false daughters, left to wander in the wild as senility and madness slowly dominate him. This outline however only covers the scantest action of the play as, of all Shakespeare’s work, Lear is the richest in subplots and secondary characters possessing their own interwoven story arcs. Bennett’s direction, and the incredibly talented cast, bring these to the forefront in a way that is rarely seen, but deeply invigorating. It turns the typical narrative into an all-out, chaotic melee where every individual – from page to prince – has their own agenda and aspirations, for which they are ready to fight tooth and nail. This production is truly an ensemble piece, with each actor’s performance serving to enhance and drive those of his/her fellow cast members. At times it even takes on a sense of collective storytelling, largely due to the ensembles deft handling of Shakespeare’s rhythmic verse. It is difficult, therefore, to praise any one cast member, as excluding any would do them disservice. That being said, there are particular interpretations within the production that especially stand out. In the title role, Simon Webb offers a powerful and young Lear, who rages against his declining faculties rather than slip into them. As his most faithful servant Kent, David Bloom brings so much heart and humanity that the character’s storyline possesses catharsis on par with any other. Evan Frayne, who plays the scheming bastard Edmund, injected the dark role with an original smug humour. Anthony F. Ingram played Gloucester – father to evil Edmund – with little of the role’s typical meekness, and instead created a fascinating figure who drew great strength and bravery from convictions of duty. Among the women, Katherine Gauthier plays Cordelia with serious backbone. In the opening scene she does not seem to hold back flattery solely due to pious honesty, but also because she believes the request is ridiculous and demeaning. This makes Lear’s ensuing wrath all the more shocking. Her two sisters, played by Renee Bucciarelli (Goneril) and Emma Slipp (Regan), are almost sympathetic at the beginning of the play. Watching them slide from greed, to selfish justification, to plotting, to downright evil, is a much richer journey than when they simply start out corrupt. There is so much to praise in the Honest Fishmongers’ King Lear. Its staging and direction are intimate, engaging, and entirely original. Its cast features some of Vancouver’s most talented actors delivering staggering performances. Its treatment of the text demonstrates respect for Shakespeare’s writing and a trust that its audience are intelligent enough to follow the story without an excess of ‘art.’ It is a truthful, inventive interpretation, proving the bard’s stories are ever relevant and moving – never museum pieces – when approached with wit, honesty, and humanity. King Lear runs until March 17 at the Havana Theatre on Commercial Drive. Tickets are only $15 at BrownPaperTickets.com.
Unscripted. Unstaged. is an interview series from Laura Murray Public Relations that speaks with fascinating artists, advocates, administrators, and other individuals who keep the Canadian artistic community visible, viable, and vibrant. This week we spoke with actor, musician, painter, and all-around renaissance man Simon Webb. Simon is a favourite of the Vancouver theatre scene, and has been since settling here in 1976. He spearheaded the development of Equity Co-op productions, was a frequent artist-in-residence at UBC Theatre Department, has taught at Studio 58, SFU, and the National Theatre School, and was a juror for the 2010/2011 Jessie Richardson Awards. Simon is a frequent performer in Blackbird Theatre productions, including Peer Gynt (Jessie, Best Production), The Triumph of Love (Jessie, Best Production), Pinter’s Briefs (Jessie nom. Best Actor), Great Expectations (SatAward, Best Actor). He can currently be seen on stage in Blackbird Theatre’s Waiting for Godot (running at The Cultch until January 21, 2012.) Upcoming highlights include the title role in King Lear at Havana Theatre and a production of Noises Off with Chemanius Theatre. Q: If we were introduced at a party – what are the three things you would be excited to share about yourself? Well, I hope that three things about myself wouldn’t be the first things out of my mouth! But if it was tonight, and if you asked me, I’d tell you about the evolving experience of performing Godot, and how remarkable it is to find myself in the midst of such beauty, sharing real laughter and real tears, always new and always in the moment. Then I’d tell you about the challenge and joy of rehearsing King Lear (which opens at The Havana in February), and what an amazing pairing of plays this is; and you, like many people, would say, “But that’s a lot of work!” and I’d say, “I thought acting wasn’t supposed to be real work!” It’s so easy to work hard on such great material. And thirdly, I might touch on what a wonderful age we live, when at 62, one can have the health, energy, and opportunity to be doing the best work of my life, and the love that I get nightly from the audiences – it really is a powerful food for the soul. Q: If we checked your nightstand, what books would we find you reading right now? The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci; Midnight In Sicily, by Peter Robb; Exposed by the Mask, by Peter Hall – indispensable for any classical actor, four lectures that can be reread forever; but King Lear is my nightly homework, and always opening new doors. I’ve been reading Lear for over a year now, and am just starting to peel away the accumulated layers of old varnish and wallpaper that constitute what everybody else has done with it – and something fresh and raw and tender is under there…. Q: If we checked your computer, what favourite sites would be bookmarked? I don’t feel comfy with computers. I still refuse to have a cellphone – I really don’t want people to be able to get hold of me whenever they want. My privacy is very important – I have none when I perform, that’s when I try to be completely available to all – but when I’m going about the rest of my day, I don’t want to be importuned. I also never use ear buds for music – I love music, play piano and sing in a renaissance choir, but I like to make special time for it, not use it as aural wallpaper. Maybe it has to do with my infancy, in an old fashioned village and home – no phone, no tv, a little radio – blackbirds were my lullabies(!) , foxes barked in the fields, church bells rang in the next village. So, websites – King Lear, New Critical Essays, and whatever else I’m researching. FB, of course – I don’t want to fall into compete techno-illiteracy! Q: How did you come to do what you do – was there a defining moment you can tell us about? At school I was a poor student, socially awkward and always in trouble. There was one teacher, Brian Palin, who I loathed, and who seemed to loathe me. One morning in assembly I was asked to go to his room. I thought I was in detention. He told me I was going to be in the school play. I said I wasn’t. He said I was – back and forth. Then he gave me a copy of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and told me to look over a speech – it was Cassius recruiting Brutus (He doth bestride the world like a Colossus). Then he told me to read it out loud. I started to understand as I read, and get into it more and more. I felt somehow, I dunno, different at the end. I looked up and Mr Palin had his head in his hands, a gesture I’d often seen when my teachers despaired of me. He raised his head, and there were tears on his face. “That was beautiful,” he said. It was the first time anyone had said that about anything I’d done. That was it. Life changed in two minutes. Q: When it comes to marketing, is there a particular campaign or a poster, advertisement, or promotion that made a significant impact or that stands out in your mind? I love the ’60′s psychedelic posters of my youth – violent colours and so hard to read that you had to spend time with them; and good enough as art that the time was well spent. I don’t see many good original-art posters now. Your campaign for Godot has been awesome, seriously – you got the word out everywhere, and everybody wants to see the show. And it never felt repetitive. Q: Lastly, what inspires you? Things that grow. … Continue reading